Being the largest Jewish film festival in the world is great, but it’s not the most important goal for organizers of the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival.
“Being number one – that’s gravy,” said Steve Labovitz, chairman of the board of the AJFF. “It’s much more important to put on a great festival. The quality of the films is the key.”
Last year’s attendance at the AJFF topped 38,000, surpassing the 35,000 attending the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival. The SFJFF was the longtime largest Jewish film fest in the world. With 77 feature films to be screened at this year’s AJFF over a three-week period beginning Jan. 26, all indicators are AJFF will again attract more than 38,000 moviegoers.
The enormous growth over the last decade led to AJFF to becoming an independent organization in 2015, separating from the Atlanta Regional Office of the American Jewish Committee, which founded the fest in 2000.
“This became such a big film festival and it took up so much time from the AJC’s programming,” said Labovitz, who is the inaugural chair of the board for the independent AJFF and also a vice president of Atlanta’s AJC board.
“The AJC birthed us. And we will continue to partner with them, but it is better for all of us [for the film fest] to be on its own,” Labovitz said. “It makes both organizations better – it’s a win-win.”
‘One of the hottest tickets in town’
Labovitz said his true “claim to fame” with the festival is hiring Kenny Blank as its executive director.
“He’s been spectacular. Much of the success goes to his vision and the incredible staff he’s put together,” Labovitz said. “He’s made it into one of the greatest film festivals in the country and maybe the world.”
As an independent organization, the AJCC can apply for grants it would maybe not be eligible for because it was directly tied to a Jewish organization, Labovitz said. And while the film festival is the largest cultural gathering for the city’s Jewish community, approximately one-third of attendees are non-Jewish.
“We’ve gone from people not knowing about us to being one of the hottest tickets in town,” he said.
The AJFF is looking to expand its programming beyond the three weeks of the fest to year-round. “In the beginning we had no vision to make the film festival more than just a week. Now we are having strategic meetings not only for just the three weeks of the festival, but will we be doing something potentially that can carry through all year, such as educational programming to highlight what the festival does?” Labovitz said.
The film festival is a “true cultural experience” where dialogue can be facilitated, he added.
“This is a wonderful way to bring communities together,” he said.
2016 Atlanta Jewish Film Festival
When: Jan. 26 through Feb. 17
Where: various locations, starting with an opening at Cobb Energy Centre at 7:30 p.m. Jan. 16
Cost: varies by film
For more: ajff.org, or 678-701-6104